Negative Space: Photography as Strategy in Late-Colonial Old Goa

Vishvesh Prabhakar Kandolkar

Palavras-chave: Indo-Portuguese Architecture; Old Goa ; Photography; Portuguese India; St. Francis Xavier

Participação: presencial

Photography arrived in British India in 1840, only one year after its invention in Europe. However, in Portuguese-held Goa, it was only in 1884 that its capital got its first professional photography studio: Souza & Paul; this studio extensively photo-documented Goa in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, partnering with state authorities. One such commission was the 1890 exposition of the sacred remains of St. Francis Xavier when the state had the studio photograph the monuments of Old Goa. Vestiges of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, those monuments came to evidence the decline of the erstwhile capital of the Estado da Índia, with only a few magnificent buildings surviving the heyday of the empire. While Souza & Paul’s 1890 photographs focus on the architecture of Old Goa, much gets left out of the frame, especially considering that the negative space in their pictures was previously occupied by buildings in a thriving early modern city.

To complement the ruination of the city, the late-nineteenth/early-twentieth centuries saw no new developments, demonstrating the ongoing poverty of the colonial state. Nevertheless, the empty spaces surrounding Old Goa’s early modern architecture allowed photography to spectacularly render monuments of the past in relief while obscuring the decline of the impoverished colonial empire.

In examining Souza & Paul’s archival photographs, I would like to invert the gaze of colonial visuality; although the striking mix of European influenced architecture is meant to be the punctum of Old Goa’s late-nineteenth century photographs, it is the negative spaces - which hide the ruination of the city - that become its true punctum. The late-colonial state used the camera as a logistical tool, obscuring the ruination of Old Goa and the lack of new development. In the absence of new monuments, the administration utilised photography to showcase leftover monuments of the great imperial past to underscore colonial longevity so as to hold on to their powers during the era of decoloniality.


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Vishvesh Prabhakar Kandolkar, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Architecture at Goa College of Architecture (Goa University) and the Programme Coordinator of the Master of Architecture in Urban Design programme at the college. His research on Goa’s architectural history focuses on early modern church design, as well as the evolution of Indo-Portuguese aesthetics. His writing has appeared in Oxford Journal of Hindu Studies, eTropic, Verge, Economic and Political Weekly, and Journal of Human Values. Based on his research about the Bom Jesus Basilica, Kandolkar’s works, This is Not the Basilica!, were exhibited at ‘Sunaparanta Goa Centre for the Arts, from 8th September to 20th November 2021.